“I’ve had my days, I thought I could be somebody they’d say, really gets to me the way that he writes right from the heart. When you lay your heart on the line, you bare your soul ‘til they can read your mind and they don’t always love what they find when you lay your heart on the line.”
—Dean Dillon, Heart on the Line
Crested Butte has always attracted the musically inclined and has long been home to a multitude of performing musicians frequenting the stages of local watering holes, so when BMI, with the help of local country music legend Dean Dillon (see this week’s profile in the Weekly entertainment section), decided to put together a Songwriters Festival, Crested Butte was a good fit. The third annual Crested Butte Songwriters Festival is tuning into the Gunnison Valley’s creative country vibe again this year, Wednesday through Sunday, January 15-19 to showcase local musicians and some of the nation’s top songwriters.
Sponsored and produced by BMI, (Broadcast Music, Inc.), all of the artists are enlisted with the company that collects license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. The festival is also a fundraiser and part of Gunnison Cattlemen’s Day’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink (TETWP), whose main purpose is to raise funds for local breast cancer awareness, education, equipment and support.
Dean Dillon, a key player in staging the event, explains, “BMI and I started this winter event of all songwriters when they contacted me asking if I wanted to put on this festival since I lived here. I said, ‘Just give me the money for Tough Enough to Wear Pink.’”
Last year’s event raised $40,000 with the funds helping to buy and install a digital imaging mammogram machine at the Gunnison Valley Hospital. Dillon continues, “TETWP has given over 500 breast exams and free mammograms, and gave over $100,000 for the machine.” This year’s funds from the Songwriting Festival will partly go to buy robes and robe warmers for the exam room. “We’re just trying to make women comfortable when they go in for the exams.”
Dillon notes that TETWP has expended more than $350,000 in the community through exams, machines and other necessities, with a long-term goal of making the program monetarily self sustaining. Currently, the program is putting out about $1,000 per case.
Local artists have a rare opportunity to work beside some of the industry greats like Dean Dillon, Scotty Emerick, Thompson Square, Kree Harrison, Lucie Silvas, Rodney Clawson, Nicole Galyon, Kendall Marvel, Casey Beathard, Storme Warren, and Due West. Stage veterans Tyler Hansen, Stephanie Lane Stephenson, and Steve Snyder return to welcome newcomer Lizzy Plotkin in this year’s local line up.
Master of ceremonies for the Saturday show at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts is Stacy McCloud, the co-host of “Headline Country” on GAC-TV. Although the fame factor is evident at the festival, the talent behind the fame is revealed.
Local songwriter and performer Tyler Hansen, who picked up guitar in college because, he jokingly confesses, “It’s the time every guy picks up a guitar and learns to strum a few chords to pick up the women.” His influences matured post-college days to the classics—singer/songwriters like James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Van Morrison and old soul singers like Otis Redding, Ben E. King, and Sam Cooke. “Some people are prodigious songwriters. Personally, songwriting can be a painful, slow, difficult process for me, a product of me being my own worse critic,” he admits. So he’s teamed up with local vocal talent Stephanie Lane Stephenson.
“Stephanie is a joy because she releases some of that for me. I don’t have that prodigiousness of song writing on my own,” Tyler says of the process that, for him, feels more like slogging through the mud trying to work out a decent melody. “But there are those blessed moments when you just seem to be a conduit and it’s like the song has always existed, you just get to be the person to introduce it to the world…you give birth to it. Being asked to be a part of the festival, I was so excited—not only that Stephanie was going to be a part of it, but also that we get to perform for the general public and for some of these guys who are songwriting heroes.”
Stephanie Lane Stephenson grew up with a father who was a music pastor and singing on a church platform, which she notes, “Is pretty quiet and everyone’s kind of chilling.” Her songwriting instrument is a guitar, although she admits, “I actually don’t play… I play chords enough to write songs.” Teaming up with Tyler Hansen as her writing partner seemed to be a good match.
“I use my melodic powers to create the lyrics and melody. We put it all together and it works,” Stephanie says of their six-year partnership.
Stephanie expressed the excitement of having the opportunity to share her creative side, along with Tyler, at the festival. “When I write, it’s straight from my heart. To share that with people, if there’s one person out there and they get it and they needed to hear it for whatever reason, then that is my purpose in being a singer/songwriter.” She also feels that a lot of songwriting has to do with what you’re going through: “Crazy good emotions make for good songwriting.”
Steve Snyder is no newcomer to country music, having shared the stage with the likes of Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Hank Williams, Jr., George Strait, Asleep at the Wheel, Merle Haggard, the Oak Ridge Boys… just to name a few. “I don’t consider myself a songwriter—I’m a singer of songwriters,” he laughs and adds, “I’m a lyricist.” Having grown up in “West, by God, Virginia,” Steve was exposed to country music before he could crawl. His parents not only performed but had their own country music radio show. “Every weekend either we went to somebody’s house or they came to ours to play,” he remembers. As far as his career, Steve chuckles and in his sultry seasoned voice says, “I am not planning on going anywhere career-wise. I just love to play and I love the reaction that I get from the audience. I just do what I do. I’m just a musician who appreciates the songwriters more than anyone could know. If it weren’t for the songwriters I wouldn’t have anything to do!”
Lizzy Plotkin is the newest Buttian addition this year to grace the stage. Originally a Nashville girl, she feels her songs are eclectic and diverse, although she might classify herself as more Americana. “Whatever kind of music or instrument I’m playing, that’s where the song comes from,” she says of her writing.
“They’re all me, despite the diversity of style. Some of the music comes from personal stories and things that trigger emotions in me. Some of them I’ve written outside while hiking because that’s where I find quiet and music. My primary instrument is fiddle and I picked up the mandolin when I was 17. I compose primarily on the mandolin. Music is my livelihood, it’s my form of therapy and my chosen art, among other things. I picked up a violin when I was five.” She explains that her dad was a pro musician, primarily a Nashville fiddler playing rock to jazz. Although she never really knew her father since he passed away when she was only two years old, Lizzy plays his violin. “He’s definitely been an inspiration to me my whole life and I feel close to him when I’m playing music,” and she’s excited to share that music at the festival.
As Dean Dillon noted at his acceptance speech for his lifetime achievement honor, the prestigious Icon Award, during the BMI Country Music Awards in November, “It’s about this wonderful thing called country music. I hear some disgruntlement going on in country music in today’s world. There’s a box and there’s some cowboys out there kicking the sides down on it right now, stretching the boundaries, pushing the limits, putting new twists and turns on it and they go out there and they play every night and play to these thousands and thousands of people and they sing their songs to their generation and that’s what it’s all about.”
Anyone needing a mammogram or more information about the programs is encouraged to contact TETWP at gunnisontetwp.com or contact the Gunnison County Hospital directly by calling (970) 641-1456 or online at gvh-colorado.org. For more information about BMI.com, visit Dean Dillon’s website at deandillon.com.
Friday, January 17
6 p.m., Talk of the Town
6 to 6:30 p.m., Lizzy Plotkin
6:40 to 7:10 p.m., Kree Harrison & Lucie Silvas
7:20 to 8 p.m., Rodney Clawson & Nicolle Galyon
8 p.m., The Eldo
8 to 8:30 p.m., Steve Snyder
8:40 to 9:10 p.m., Casey Beathard & Kendell Marvel
9:20 to 10 p.m., Due West
10 p.m., Kochevar’s
10 to 10:30 p.m., Stephanie Lane Stephenson & Tyler Hansen
10:45 p.m.to Midnight, Dean Dillon & Scotty Emerick
*$5 donation for entry into all Friday night shows
Saturday, January 18
7:30 p.m., In-the-Round benefit show at Center for the Arts, Hosted by Stacy McCloud
*$100 tickets benefitting Tough Enough to Wear Pink available at Center for the Arts (970) 349-7847; The Toggery in Gunnison (970) 641-0844; and the Adventure Center at Mountaineer Square (970) 349-4554.
7 p.m., Doors open at Center for the Arts
7:30 to 7:45 p.m., Stacy welcomes, TETWP presentation
7:50 to 8:20 p.m., Kree Harrison & Lucie Silvas
8:30 to 9:30 p.m., Casey Beathard, Kendell Marvel and Nicolle
9:40 to 10 p.m., Due West
10:10 to 11 p.m., Dean Dillon, Scotty Emerick & Rodney Clawson